Film

Uniting against housing injustice: Class Act by SPID Theatre review

Community youth theatre group SPID launched a ‘season of social change’ at BFI Southbank. One of their young filmmakers was there to document the event especially for The Big Issue.

Water damage at Kensal House Community Rooms. Photo: SPID

Water damage at Kensal House Community Rooms. Photo: SPID

London-based charity SPID [Social Progressive Interconnected Diverse] Theatre specialises in creating high quality community youth theatre on council estates. Based in the same council area as Grenfell Tower, they champion human dignity by advocating investment in social housing and reaching out to those with lived experience of housing injustice. On February 4, they launched a ‘season of social change’ with Class Act, a series of performances and film screenings at BFI Southbank. One of SPID’s up-and-coming filmmakers, 21-year-old Joshua Ogbue, was there to document the event especially for The Big Issue.

SPID Theatre’s Class Act at the BFI Southbank screened inspiring films that dramatise the award-winning charity’s belief that justice is the public face of love. They argue that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) – the same council that owned Grenfell Tower – has failed in their legal duties to nearby Kensal House Estate, where SPID is based and where tenants have reported flooding, leaks and mould since 2005. SPID is uniting those who live and work there in class action against the council – in the name of solidarity, saving social housing and making these precious buildings safe.

First up was Helena Thompson, SPID’s founder, with The Story of Fires and Floods. This film brought SPID’s history at Kensal House to life, starting when the Residents Association first invited them in back in 2005. Her narration delved into grassroots youth and community work on estates, the fire at Grenfell, the floods at Kensal, and the council’s divide and rule tactics to avoid doing their job. It was cued to live film and audio and included participatory interaction as audience members were invited to read out the council’s statutory duties and to perform extracts from Helena’s play, The Burning Tower.

It was harrowing to hear how what Thompson saw as a hate campaign fuelled by misinformation from the council affected SPID and her mental health. But she also explained that making the council watch the story of fires and floods was a turning point for SPID and their fight against the system (the council recently said it has agreed with the resident association on a programme of works to help stop leaks happening as often).

SPID at the BFI
SPID at the BFI. Photo: SPID

Hearing how housing chiefs tried to stop the show and refused to read out their duties before finally admitting negligence was gratifying. I found it inspiring because it spoke volumes of Helena’s perseverance in her fight to provide a voice for the residents of Kensal House – the 1930s, Grade II* listed estate where the Big Issue’s John Bird, who was born in Notting Hill, once worked as a gardener.

Next was Class Act itself, which also made for painful but moving viewing. SPID’s film showed the leaks, floods and mould suffered throughout Kensal House. Even though the film featured mobile phone footage compiled quickly on a shoestring budget to turn the spotlight on neglect, it was impressively professional. The opening slide – ‘made by and for all who cherish Kensal House and social housing’ – struck a chord with the captivated audience.

Seeing the conditions that tenants had to endure was heart-breaking. It was particularly upsetting to see how the RBKC had let their own residents, to whom they have a duty to care, live in such atrocious conditions with flooding and mould affecting most houses in the estate. The high-quality film packed a punch, arguing that Grenfell was not the one-off accident RBKC claimed. It showed that those who share Grenfell’s landlord on other estates continue to suffer appalling negligence. The fact that a housing association in Rochdale was recently found responsible for a child dying from mould highlights the national significance of RBKC’s repair and safety failures at Kensal House.

To help audiences process both the injustice and the courage they had witnessed, SPID’s youth ambassador Aini Javaid then quietly lead a short meditation on the power of collaboration. This lead on to the SPID shout, where audiences had the chance to repeat back words and phrases like “pride” and “we’ve got the love” with growing momentum. Both exercises focused on the ethos of solidarity, with an emphasis on uniting everyone together, supporting each other and building momentum for social change. I found this healing because it demonstrated that no matter how many trials we face as a people, we are stronger together.

The final film was a short video made by youth assistant Keimarni Hardy about SPID’s upcoming Estate Endz program. The humour and joy with which he encouraged 13 to 25-year-olds like me to sign up for free film and history activities was irresistible. I am definitely up for making a documentary about Kensal House’s history, especially now I know it will be screening at the BFI Southbank too. I can’t wait to take part. The opportunity to work with industry professionals sounds really exciting, as does working on a project that promotes social change.

By the time it came to thank the co-chair of Kensal House Residents Association along with staff of SPID and the BFI, we all felt like friends. I will always remember SPID’s shout: join justice, feel better. The moral of Class Act is clear – we can win this!

4.5/5

Joshua Ogbue is a young activist artist and actor who participated in SPID’s award-winning Stories We Save film and was voted youth ambassador by his peers on SPID’s Estate Endz programme.

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